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Bostonia: The Alumni Magazine of Boston University

Summer 2012 Table of Contents

Writing for Mad Men

Alum, husband talk shop at BU

| From Commonwealth | By Amy Laskowski

Jessica Paré and Jon Hamm, who play Megan and Don Draper on AMC’s Mad Men. Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

Last spring, when AMC’s critically acclaimed series Mad Men returned to television, the show’s creators worried that its 17-month hiatus would cost them many viewers. They could hardly have been more wrong.

Critics hailed the season premiere, and millions tuned in to the lives of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and Joan Harris.

The executive producers and writing team behind many of these story lines, husband and wife André Jacquemetton and Maria Jacquemetton (COM’85), came to Mad Men through their friendship with creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner.

The three met in a Los Angeles writing group when they were all working as assistants, recalls Maria Jacquemetton.

Maria Jacquemetton (COM’85) and her husband, André Jacquemetton, are executive producers of Mad Men and the writing team behind many of the television show’s story lines.

“We would pitch to each other, and if one of us was working on a particular script, we would exchange pages, give notes, and just act like a support group,” she says. “Over the years, various members of the group found success. At the time, André and I were writing for Star Trek: Enterprise, and Matt gave us the spec for Mad Men. We said, ‘If you ever get this going—we don’t know where we’re going to be or what we’re going to be doing—we would love to work on this show.’”

Five years later, AMC picked up the show, and Weiner called. Their work on the show has earned them four Writers Guild of America Awards as well as three Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series.

In March, the Jacquemettons screened an episode from season four of Mad Men and discussed their careers on campus as guests of the Cinematheque series, a College of Communication program that brings filmmakers to campus. They talked with Bostonia about their careers, what it’s like working with each other, and their advice for anyone looking to write for film or television.

Bostonia: Describe your collaboration, and what it’s like to work with your spouse.

André: Where do we start? Essen­tially, we can’t be in the same room together. We’re writing for Mad Men so it’s really a question of speed, and for us it’s about dividing the work. Maria will take the A story, for example, I’ll take the B and C story. It’s trying to get a draft together as quickly as possible and chiseling down the statue and trying to get the voices correct, the story right, and handing it in in a timely manner.

Maria: When he says we can’t be in the same room together, he’s talking about when we actually sit down at the computer. We liter­ally, aside from when we’re typing at the desk, spend every other waking moment together, so it’s misleading to start that way.

André: It is and it isn’t. We’re not the type of couple that can face one another and have desks that face one another. We both go off into our sep­arate corners and write.

Maria: The point he’s talking about is when we’re ready to write the script. When we’re actually breaking the story, particularly on a TV series, we are physically in the same room with each other and a bunch of other writers, and we come up with story outlines together and then we get sent off to write. And at that point, we sort of go into our separate corners.

As head writers and executive producers on Mad Men, do you still have your work rewritten or cut altogether?

André: Absolutely. You know, when you become the showrunner of a series, it’s your voice and it’s your show. Mad Men is very much Matt’s show, so it’s his prerogative to change stories, change dialogue, change whatever he wants of your script. You have to remember that you’re there to support him and that’s part of the job. Essentially, you’re there to pitch stor­ies, to write scripts, but ultimately, every decision lies with the showrunner, so he can change whatever he wants.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers trying to get into the business?

Maria: Write. We are asked for advice all the time by students and people who say they want to be writers. They come to us with one spec or one screenplay. Don’t come to us with one script—come to us when you’ve got five scripts and they’re the best you can do on every one, because the competition is superfierce. The more material you have and the more you write, the better you’re going to get and the more chances you have of actu­ally landing your foot in the door.

I think that is one thing that we see all too often: writers get their first job on the show and they’re so happy to have that job that they just work there, and on their hiatus go travel­ing, backpacking around Mexico. Then they come back to the show the next season and they’ve written nothing.

Well, there’s someone who’s sitting at home writ­ing three specs in that time period, someone whose work is going to have personally come along farther and will have three original sam­ples they can send out and possibly sell, someone able to cast a wider net. With the economy the way it is, you’ve got to be able to cast a wide net if you want to land work.

André: I would add to that, build a thick skin. This is a business that’s ruled by a lot of naysayers, so you’ve got to be able to deal with rejection. Get back on your feet right away and keep writing and keep pushing, keep calling people and keep thinking of ideas. And even though the odds are against you and people keep rejecting you, you’ve just got to keep going and persevere.

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